Facebook’s appallingly bad user interface

I understand the appeal of social networks, but the more I use Facebook the more convinced I am that it is an example of how to not build a social network user interface. Yeah, I know they are more popular than God and they have something like 600 million users worldwide. I know that Facebook and other social media forces like Twitter are the key tools bringing democracy to the Middle East. Maybe it is just me, but I find Facebook annoyingly difficult to use and it seems to get more that way with time. It’s like the Windows 3.1 of social media. Using it is frustrating and often counterproductive.

I notice a lot of my Facebook friends use it even less than I do. Perhaps that is because they find it as baffling as I do. Yes, I do have certain very social friends who spend what seems to be much of their lives on Facebook. I wish some company like Google could make a social network site that is usable and kill this monstrosity. Yet, like Windows, Facebook seems impossible to kill simply because everyone else is using it. Gah!

I have two choices. I can disconnect from Facebook and maybe tick off my friends, or I can stay on Facebook and hope that for all the billions its owners are making they might spend some time to make it usable. Granted, if all I want to do is make a short and inane post, it’s fine. I assume most Facebook users rarely get beyond this level of usage.

Let’s take posting as an example of why it sucks. First, there is a limit on how much you can post, and you get no feedback like you do on Twitter on how many characters you have left. I don’t know why there is a limit in the first place. The limit does not seem to apply on certain places, like on your wall. Moreover, you cannot dress up your text with italics, underlines, bolds or colors. It’s a one-size-fits-all approach. For a while there it didn’t like paragraphs. Now you can at least add paragraphs but if you start a post you can’t undo it unless you select all your text and delete it. Naturally when changes like these are made there is little in the way of warnings. You just have to adapt instantly.

Then there are its notifications. It gives me all sorts of notifications, all of which it thinks are deathly important but none of which I think are so. So some friend of a friend likes some friend’s post. It must tell me about it immediately. I don’t care. Perhaps there is a way to turn off this feature but so far I haven’t found it. But even if you click on the notifications link and select whoever’s status, the notification doesn’t necessarily go away. The only sure fire way I have found to get rid of a notification is to reply or attempt to reply to the status. But in most cases I don’t want to reply.

Then there is the “Top News” versus the “Most Recent” news. Most Recent makes sense, but how does Facebook decide what is “Top News”? I sure don’t know but a lot of my “Top News” is more like “Bottom News”.

If I hit the “Home” link in the top right corner I expect that maybe I would go to the Facebook home page. What often happens is I get a Facebook page with no posts whatsoever. So then I click on the Facebook link in the top left corner. Sometimes that works, sometimes that doesn’t. It’s all so baffling, confusing and non-deterministic, just like Windows.

Also baffling and confusing is how my browser is also baffled by it. On any other page, if I use my Page Up or Page Down buttons I will advance up or down the page by approximately the content on the screen. But not when I am in Facebook, or at best this happens irregularly. It probably has something to do with what control I was last in and its properties, but it doesn’t seem to happen anywhere else. So I have to drag the scrollbar with my mouse instead. It’s nuts.

And call me crazy, but if I press the “Friends” link on the left I expect to see a list of my friends. But in the crazy Facebook world, “Friends” means I want to find more friends and I am prompted to use various search engines to find them. Why not make the link “Find more friends”? News alert to Facebook developers: not all of us want to have thousands of friends. I’m done searching for friends. Of course, I cannot turn off this interface. How do I see all those I have “friended”? Apparently I have to go to my “wall”, which is done by clicking on the link associated with my name (why not a “My wall” link?) then click on the Friends link on the left column. Then I can see my 42 friends.

And what is the difference between a post and a message? To most people it would be the same thing, but in the Facebook universe a post is public (at least to your friends) and a message is private. Why not call messages “private messages”? It makes no sense.

Then there is the Profile link, which looks like it’s also my wall, but maybe not. In any event, in most other places I’ve been to when you select Profile you are immediately allowed to edit your profile, not see your profile as others would see you. In the weird Facebook world you go to your profile, then select the Edit Profile link. And what’s the difference between “Profile” and “Account”? Your profile is part of your account. Why not put it under Account? Why be so confusing?

I have only lightly experimented with photos and groups. Needless to say both were confusing so for right now I avoid both photos and groups. Then there is its Byzantine privacy system, which at least has been somewhat simplified, but is still darn confusing, and which often defaults to less privacy instead of more privacy.

I realize Facebook has to make money but I’d like an option to pay them a small stipend so I don’t have to see any annoying ads at all and have no marketing information about me shared. Is that too much to ask?

For all you Facebook fans, am I off base here or is Facebook really so wonderful? Am I some sort of 20th century curmudgeon? I wish Facebook would hire an interface guru like Jakob Nielsen so it would actually be usable to us. With all their billions in revenue, you would think it would be an obvious investment. Right now, companies like Google have every incentive to build a better social network. Making a better user interface should be a piece of cake.

When someone does, then I will be the first to “friend” my Facebook friends and try to persuade them to use it instead. Sorry Facebook, yours isn’t.

15 responses to “Facebook’s appallingly bad user interface”

  1. Serge Meeuwsen Avatar
    Serge Meeuwsen

    I found your site by googling the following query: “facebook’s user interface is crap” after another frustrating session with facebook. I tend to blame myself in that I probably not use it often enough, but then I thought, am I the only one who thinks their interface sucks?

    So I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments. It’s baffling to me that facebook has gotten so big with such a totally unintuitive user interface…


  2. I can’t agree more, I find it so crappy that my overwhemingly impulse is to leave asap. Its a huge relief to find I am not alone in my opinoin.


  3. you’re not alone.
    it is indeed appalling, so much so that i’d probably stay away from it even if i did see the appeal of social networks.
    makes me want to bash my head against the wall every time i find myself needing to use it because certain other people are there.


  4. I too find Facebook’s user interface to be annoyingly frustrating. The behavior is non intuitive, nay counter intuitive, and the documentation is poor to nonexistent. As a UI designer, I feel for the Facebook developers, but I was one of them, I would feel embarrassed to admit it.

    The only justification for such a poor interface would be if the current design somehow, perhaps magically, enhanced the revenue stream. For the life of me, I can’t see how that could possibly be the case.


  5. I hate to say this but Facebook was not designed as a social media tool. As I examine the interface, it is apparent that this was designed to gather information about people. Don’t want to sound all big brother, but I would be careful what you post. And I agree, it’s a terrible interface which backs up my point that it was not designed to social network, otherwise, it would be user friendly.


  6. I agree, the UI is one of the worst I have ever used and frustratingly it seems to get worse every time they release a new version!


  7. I agree FB has probably the worst UI I’ve used in a long time and it seems to be getting worse.


  8. Totally true. Being a webdeveloper myself and working with UI almost daily I have never experienced a user interface that is so utterly confusing and messed-up. Totally unbelievable I must say and working in Facebook has often really streched my nerves. Unacceptable if you ask me but then again they will probably have their reasons…

    To me it’s not far away to completely stop using Facebook, it simply takes the fun out of it for me.


  9. Thank Goodness I found this posting. My feelings exactly! The developers didn’t read the book “Don’t Make me Think”. It’s no wonder the Facebook stock is crapping out.


  10. I hate the Facebook UI.
    Surely they could afford better UI designers.
    It feels like it was designed by a bunch of drunk, high, college students. Time to grow up!

    I just recently delved into the developers docs.
    They are also horrible.


  11. Ha ha. I just went to the Facebook career page which says:
    “Move Fast
    We have a saying: “Move fast and break things.” The idea is that if you never break anything, you’re probably not moving fast enough. At Facebook, we’re less afraid of making mistakes than we are of losing opportunities.”

    Probably explains their UI; it is broken and they sped past it and left it in the dust. Lol


  12. Ugh... Facebook Avatar
    Ugh… Facebook

    Just found this 2 year old article because after managing to not use FaceBook ever before, I’ve recently been forced to manage a FB page for my employer. Fortunately the majority of my posts will be automated by a blog, but just getting everything setup has been a struggle.

    From the very beginning FB has a make a page link on it’s signup page, but after filling everything out and hitting submit I was returned with an error telling me I had to login (to personal acct) first.

    After that, I can never seem to find the correct settings, or worse, I somehow get switched back to my personal acct when changing my page.

    I don’t know how they’ve been so successful, but after all these years I though these issues would be fixed.

    Oh BTW, is it me or do some errors seem to use horrible grammar?

    Thanks for confirming I’m not the only one baffled by FB!


  13. Right on. Absolutely. It is the worst user interface ever! It should be used as an example to future programers to show them how not to design or build a UI


  14. Peter Hargraves Avatar
    Peter Hargraves

    Amen to your blog post and all the comments! What a piece of crap the Facebook UI is!


  15. Amazing how long this thread – and other like it – have been going. Absolute proof, if it were needed, that Facebook’s “reason for being” is nothing to do with social media and everything to do with harvesting your data.

    I’ve resisted FB for as long as I can but too many other organisations are making it necessary to login via FB or leave feedback via FB.

    I can’t add to the comments made here except it’s pretty obvious which Google term brought me here. The bad news is, it’s built on crap foundations so any “improvements” can only make it worse.


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